As I stood in front of the long, dusty, metallic brown train, amidst mountains of burlap sacks which South Sudanese had used to wrap their belongings for the long journey from Khartoum to the new Republic of South Sudan, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned my head to see a face that was familiar if not immediately recognizable. I squinted in the sun for a moment and then it came to me. I took a step back in disbelief. He turned to my puzzled colleague and explained: “I was his teacher.”
The memories flooded back to me. A decade earlier, the man standing in front of me in Wau had been a refugee in Cairo who volunteered his time to interpret for fellow South Sudanese who had fled to Egypt to escape Africa’s longest-running civil war, which scattered millions across Sudan, Africa, and the World. More than interpreters of language, people like N___ were interpreters of culture. By translating for people like me – mostly foreign volunteers who had come to Cairo to provide legal assistance to asylum-seekers – and teaching us about their countries, they bridged not just the language divide but also the cultural divide so that together we could help asylum-seekers navigate the often difficult path to refugee status.